Dawgs Eye Redemption

ATHENS – The reminders are everywhere. A clock in Georgia's weight room began counting down the minutes until the rematch back in January.

Photos hang in team meeting rooms with pictures of Georgia Tech's players celebrating last year's upset victory in Athens by tearing branches off the famed hedges at Sanford Stadium.

And the fans – both of the Georgia and Georgia Tech variety – haven't let the Bulldogs' players and coaches forget what happened.

"We have definitely heard a lot about it from Georgia fans and Georgia Tech fans," fullback Shaun Chapas said. "They don't hesitate to remind us that we didn't get the job done last year. It is definitely something that we notice we didn't do last year."

For Mark Richt's first seven years in Athens, Georgia dominated the rivalry with its in-state opponent. But last year, the upstart Yellow Jackets came to Athens in coach Paul Johnson's first year and used its high powered triple-option offense to reel off a huge second-half scoring binge to upset the Bulldogs 45-42, and the sting of defeat has remained fresh in the minds of Georgia's players and coaches ever since.

"It's something you don't ever forget that feeling you had in your gut last year coming off the field," defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "It wasn't fun. You've had that same knot in your stomach all year round. It's not a good feeling, and it's something you've got to live with 365 days a year." At Bulldogs Club meetings, the fans have hounded Richt about the loss. When in-state players go home for a break, the Tech fans in their hometowns have made a point of mentioning their team's big win. Even amid a tumultuous season filled with distraction, today's game against Tech has been at the forefront of the Bulldogs' minds.

Making matters worse, Georgia's season has been a disaster, while Tech has used last year's win in Athens as the springboard to a 10-1 season and a trip to the ACC title game on the horizon.

"It's not pleasant, and nobody likes it," cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "Just seeing that they're having a great year this year and we're not, people think we're the underdog. But I feel like if we do what we're supposed to do, we have a great chance at beating Tech."

There is an upside to Tech's success, however.

At 6-5, most of Georgia's preseason goals have long since disappeared. Once again, Florida got the best of the Bulldogs, and even a mediocre Tennessee team embarrassed Georgia in Knoxville. Last week, the Bulldogs reached a low point with a disastrous second half against Kentucky in which four turnovers doomed Georgia to its fifth loss of the season in heartbreaking fashion.

All of that might normally mean the Bulldogs had little left to play for, but knowing the significance of the rivalry with Tech and suffering through a year of torment at the hands of the Yellow Jackets' fans, none of Georgia's players are taking this game lightly.

"It's a hate relationship," linebacker Rennie Curran said. "And just experiencing that loss and seeing those hedges and everything, I feel like it fired our whole team up. Nobody's going to have to tell us to get fired up for this game. The emotion's going to be there."

Beyond simply a win over their arch rival, the Bulldogs also have a chance to wrap up their regular season on a high note and avoid an ignominious fate of becoming the first team at Georgia to finish with a .500 record or worse since 1996.

"It's not a good feeling to be .500 on the year, and even if we get a bid to a bowl, we'll still have another opportunity, but that's not promised," linebacker Darryl Gamble said. "So really, we're just playing for us, playing for our seniors and not having to lose to Tech two years straight."

The biggest dreams of Georgia's players may never be realized, but the beauty of rivalry week is that the records this season don't mean nearly as much as what has happened in the past.

That's what will drive the Bulldogs this today, and while a win won't erase the demons from a disastrous season, it would go a long way to boosting the morale for what lies ahead.

"It's Georgia-Georgia Tech," Gamble said. "There's a lot of history behind the game, bragging rights within the state. Even though they won last year, we've got to try to redeem the trend that's been around Georgia lately. Winning this game will help us feel relieved a little bit, just ending out on a good note."


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